The scene was Commerce Street in the blackout. I was homeward bound, my mind full of the talk just given by Mr. Scouller. He had been advising us to find some subject in which to specialise; the results of this proceeding were apparently Nuffieldian. Dreams of entrancing articles, dreams of tempting cheques, floated across my inner vision. I racked my brains busily to discover my special subject.
At this moment I heard a slight sound. I flashed my torch. Instantly a couple of enormous rats scuttled across the pavement. Rats! Was it Fate? Was it Destiny? From now on, I decided, rats shall be my speciality, my obsession, my monopoly, my easy money. I shall write of nothing but rats. I shall approach them from every angle, observe then from every viewpoint, and study every aspect of their careers. I shall exploit the subject of rats till I wring the last drop of lucre from their tails. By the time I collect my last cheque, no fact about rats will be left unrevealed.
The rat, it is well known, is the only animal which shares with man the distinction of being utterly useless to the rest of the animal kingdom. Let me, at least, prove of use to my own section of the animal kingdom if to no other, by revealing to it, through the medium of the press, THE TRUTH ABOUT THE RAT.
But what is the truth about the rat?
First of all, I should start off with a few imponderable trifles in the Nature Notes section, in which I would recount tales illustrating the amazing sagacity and cunning of the rat, the deep mother-love of the rat, or the spirit of communism among the rats. (N.B. Visit the Mitchell one of these odd nights; look up Stalin.)
Then on to greater things. By this time the public would be growing interested in the subject, and editors would he wakening up to its possibilities. We might secure a 2 line,
double column heading this time: The Rat Menace. Glasgow Overrun by Vorocious Rodents! It will soon be unsafe, I should warn my gasping readers, to walk in the rat-infested streets of Glasgow. Unless Something is Done . . .
Stories would appear of how Art of Writing students, proceeding peacefully home with no light but the light of literary inspiration in their eyes had been savagely attacked by rats in Commerce Street and had narrowly escaped by beating them off with rejected MSS. A few statistics demonstrating the rapid increase of rats would then suffice to scare readers into placing a regular order for whichever paper was fortunate enough to secure my article.
Having worked up interest in this way, l might proceed to even more startling revelations. But wait! Why not give the rat a break? Why not try to arouse some sympathy for him? Sympathy, l believe, is a sure starter if you can get the dope across. The rat has long been regarded with loathing as a plague-carrier; time has come to do some debunking, and to show that in actual fact, he lives a life of scrupulous cleanliness. "Justice for the Rat!" "The Rat Vindicated!" or, "Best Friend Nothing to Tell!" to make, the material even more convincing, -
"Scientist Declares Rats Cleaner than Man!" This Scientist always inspires a touching faith whenever he appears.
By this time things are really humming. Rats are almost front page news: J. S. Clarke is working overtime to keep up with me; it is a nation-wide fever, like Yo-yo or the Trunk Murder or confusing Confucius. Everybody is reading about rats. Rat Preservation Societies are springing up everywhere. Everybody is whistling the rat Serenade. Everybody is dancing the Rat Walk. The beauty of ratskin has been discovered, and - under its own name this time - it has achieved immense popularity for coats. The flesh of the rat is now a delicacy. Strife between the Rat Preservation Societies and the gourmets waxes; scenes of carnage occur during Rat Week, which has now taken on a new significance.
In fancy I see myself as a modern Pied Piper, marching into 71, Kingston Street, skirling on a penny whistle and followed by the entire rat populace of Commerce Street. "Brilliant Young Writer Among her Rats", the headlines at this point would run.
"They are the most charming companions", I would say to reporters who came to interview me. "So merry and gentle - they are ideal friends. See - just stroke his little whiskers; he won't touch you. What's that? Oh, never mind, there's a bottle of iodine on the shelf."
Now the moment has come to launch my best-seller, the Romance of the Rat. It describes the whole history of rats in their contact with man. It has cost me a night of research in the Mitchell. The first edition of 50,000 copies is sold out in a week. Grey Owl and Mortimer Batten are completely in the shade. The waiting lists at the tuppenny libraries are months long. In short, The Romance of the Rat is a wow. I have arrived!
At this point in my musings I found that I had only arrived at the other side of the George V Bridge. It wasn't quite the same thing. But at least I had an idea, and it was just possible that I might, in due course "arrive" in "IN PRINT".
from IN PRINT Vol. 2 No. 5, 1939/40